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7 Jan. “At the drop of a hat”. What does this expression mean?

This is a very commonly used expression in English which does not bear any relation to clothing as the word “hat” may suggest. In fact, it relates to the speed at which something is done.


The expression is used to suggest that an action is done instantly or without hesitation. It can also be used to suggest that something was done willingly and without much provocation.


The expression was coined in the 19th century at a time when most gentlemen wore hats daily rather than just when the sun was shining. They used these hats in order to communicate with other by, for example, removing their hat and bowing slightly to greet someone or throwing it high into the air to signify a victory. Another use for these hats was “throwing them into the ring” or in other words dropping them in order to demonstrate the acceptance of a challenge. It is from this use that the expression “at the drop of a hat” is said to derive. Many believe that it also links with the Wild West and the fights between cowboys who would drop their hats when they were ready for a battle to begin.

The earliest reference to this expression can be found in a note from a bankruptcy hearing in Congress from 1837 which reads, “They could agree in the twinkling of an eye-at the drop of a hat.”


Examples of the usage of this expression can be found in many works of literature and journalistic articles. An example found in The Guardian newspaper highlights the meaning of the expression, “I cannot relate to a teenage girl whose parent can buy her a brand new car at the drop of a hat.”

We hope that after reading this article you will be able to use this expression at the drop of a hat!

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